A trip to the tropics in Helsinki

One of the things I like best about living in Helsinki is not having a car. It means we are outside everyday experiencing the weather – even when it’s been -18°c and now when it’s warm (1°c) and slushy.

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The snow dampens most sounds and the birds all flew south long ago so it’s pretty quiet out.

Töölönlahti

Töölönlahti

It is nice to have some indoor options though, and to see some wildlife, which is why we recently visited Helsinki’s aquarium.

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Tucked behind Linnanmäki Amusement Park is Sea Life – promoting itself as an alternative to the snow outside and like ‘a visit to the tropics’.

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That might be pushing it a bit far but it was nice to be indoors looking at all the fish and crustaceans in a cosy environment.

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Miko loved the turtles and all the colourful fish, as well as spotting a huge white python and tiny little rainforest frogs.

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Soon we came to a clearing where dinosaur bones are hidden in sand. This suited Miko very well, as apparently he used to be a palaeontologist in Africa. (It must have been a while ago though because he still needed some help with the brush).

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There’s also a big sandpit and deck chairs for the parents to sit in on their ‘tropical’ holiday – no cocktails or cheap massages though unfortunately.

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A big blue groper watches over the exit as you move on to the next section. Here you can find ‘baby’ fish and sting rays in little nurseries inside the bigger tanks.

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At the rock pool Miko got to hold a shark’s egg and the discarded skin of the previously mentioned python. Then it was on to the gift shop where he used some coins from his money box to buy a plastic lobster.

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A very real octopus

Time to head out in the cold again and while we were getting rugged up I did feel sorry for these guys – I suspect they could all do with a trip to the tropics!

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 Sea Life Helsinki

Linnanmäki Amusement Park

There are some things in life you don’t really want to hear. Your doctor saying, “Hmm, I’ve never seen that before,” or your tattooist saying, “Actually, that spelling doesn’t look quite right.” So I was very glad no one told me that the man standing at the back of the rollercoaster we went on at Linnanmäki was there to ensure it didn’t derail.

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Linnanmaki (literally: Castle Hill) is an amusement park in Helsinki that was opened in 1950 and is owned by non-profit organisation, Lasten Päivän Säätiö (Children’s Day Foundation). We visited in May, and the sun shone brightly on the crowds as they swooped and screamed through the air enjoying the 40+ rides on offer.

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This circular building (grass roof) houses an indoor rollercoaster that can be used all year round

Entry to the park is free and you can pay per ride or buy an all-day pass for unlimited access. There are also many rides available at no cost, which is especially good when you have young children. Miko and I went on the Panorama together, a circular ride that rose high in the air and turned slowly, giving us unlimited views over the park and city beyond.

View from the Panorama

View from the Panorama

Jonny and the guys went on the Raketti (Rocket), a free fall tower where you are launched from the ground high up in the air before being dropped back down towards earth. My favourite ride was the Salama (Lightning), a spinning rollercoaster set over another river ride far below.

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The Kirnu (Churn)

I’m a bit of a chicken when it comes to rides but was quite happy to have a go on the wooden Vuoristorata (vuoristo = mountain range, rata = track) as it is the most popular ride at Linnanmäki every year. Built in 1951 in time for the tourists arriving for the 1952 Summer Olympics, it was one of the tallest rollercoasters in Europe at the time.

View of Linnanmäki and Vuoristorata from the Panorama

View of Linnanmäki and Vuoristorata from the Panorama

Vuoristorata is the last built rollercoaster in the world to use side friction technology. Unlike modern rides that have an extra set of wheels that keep the cars from becoming airborne, side friction rides could derail if they take a corner too fast and require a brakeman to ride on the train to slow it down when necessary.

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View of Linnanmäki from Töölönlahti

I’m so glad no one told me that, as I thought the man standing behind us as we flew around the track was just there to add to the park’s old world charm. Had I known I might have just suggested that Miko and I just take another slow safe spin on the Panorama…

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The Dandelion Fountain

On a recent trip to Helsinki’s amusement park Linnanmaki, we came across a fountain that Ilona mentioned was somehow connected to the fountain in Sydney’s Kings Cross. Having lived in Sydney for eleven years my interest was piqued – how did such a famous monument in the Southern Hemisphere come to be replicated here, at a fun park, more than 9000 miles away?

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The fountain at Linnanmaki

Like all good investigative reporters I headed straight to Wikipedia (ha!) where I was happy to read but misinformed that the man who designed the Kings Cross fountain was born in New Zealand. Turns out Bob Woodward was actually born in Sydney in 1923 and his career designing fountains that resemble dandelion thistles had a strong link to Finland.

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El Alamein Fountain, Kings Cross

During World War II, Woodward worked mostly as an armourer where he honed his skills working with wood and metal. After the war he studied architecture and travelled to Finland to study with one of the country’s most famous artists, Alvar Aalto. Woodward was impressed by Aalto’s commitment to bringing the organic world into design. During an interview in 1996 he said “Aalto’s principles are that essentially everything in architecture is related to biology. If you take a leaf from a tree, for example, you can see design principles which should apply to architecture itself.”

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Aalto’s iconic vase – at times attributed to the flow of a Sami woman’s dress or the lakes of Finland

In 1955 Woodward returned to Australia where he won a competition to design the El Alamein Memorial Fountain to commemorate the Australian soldiers who fought in Egypt in 1942. The fountain became an icon for Australian tourism and is now a common meeting place for people in Kings Cross.

Woodward's legacy spread like dandelion spores across the globe

Woodward’s legacy spread like dandelion spores across the globe

Woodward went on to win international recognition for his design and had a long career designing fountains around the world. His works can now be found in countries as diverse as USA, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Turkey, Sweden, Romania, Ukraine, China and yes! New Zealand. In 1972 the Ferrier family commissioned replica fountains to mark the opening of the Christchurch Town Hall in New Zealand.

Ferrier Fountains - Photo Credit: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1021-1516

Ferrier Fountains in Christchurch – Photo Credit: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1021-1516

El Alamein Memorial Fountain

Bob Woodward Obituary